Anyone who has eaten an oyster or even just looked at an oyster menu knows that there are farmed oysters and then there are wild oysters. Oysters are often labeled as being farmed or wild as if it is of great significance…so is it? What is the difference between an oyster which was farmed versus a wild oyster?
While many may automatically think that a farmed oyster is not as tasty as a wild oyster (a connotation that is common with farmed fish), this is not the case. Oysters that are grown on farms eat and develop practically the same way as wild oysters. They are not ‘fed’ on oyster farms or given any kind of growth supplements or antibiotics to prevent diseases and actually, it would be impossible to do so as oyster must grow naturally in open water. Oysters on oyster farms are simply contained and watched before they are harvested at the peak of their maturity.
Oyster farmers will use techniques that make the oysters uniform in size and shape. For example, oysters that are grown using “Off Bottom” methods are able to tumble around in the waves and tend to end up more consistent in size and shape. This uniformity can be desirable in the oyster market! Farmers on oyster farms also try to ensure the oysters are able to access food easily. However, other than the method used to contain the oysters and aiding them in their search for food, the oysters survive in the ocean just like wild oysters!
Wild oysters are harvested by diggers or shell fishermen who find the oyster beds along the coastline. In the wild, only about one in a million oyster eggs make it to adulthood which can make them very rare. Oysters that are able to thrive in uncultivated environments have to reach and strain in order to get algae and nutrients from the ocean floor and, because of this, some experts say they do not taste as flavorful as farmed oysters.
Farmed oysters in general are more sustainable than wild oysters and the practice of farming oysters is very environmentally friendly. About 95% of oysters that we eat are farm raised and boy do they taste delicious! Thanks oyster farmers!